Family & Ancestry


Family & Writing

Q. Did your knowledge of your family history help you in writing books whose stories cover many generations?

A. Yes. Specifically, it may have helped that my father was almost the youngest of a large family. So I spent much time with older uncles and aunts who'd been born in the nineteenth century. Not only that, they had been brought up abroad, by parents whose ideas of England came from an earlier generation still. So the atmosphere in which I was accustomed to finding myself dated back almost to Napoleonic times. When I research people living two hundred years ago, it's more like remembering than learning. Add that to what I know of my own family history and the histories that many kind readers have sent me of their families, and one builds up a big framework in the imagination of how people lived through historical events.

Q. A framework in which to place your historical research.

A. Certainly that. But also a sense of the great, continuous sweep of the past, of lives to which one is connected. It may be a rather primitive thing, but I can't help a strange warm feeling, as if I'm living in a world full of echoes, and that I can feel my ancestors inside me. And -this is certainly a trick of the imagination - but even writing about the distant past, I feel as if I am back where I have been before. I can't help that either. These are deep well springs of the imagination.

Did You Know?
In Manhattan in the early to mid nineteenth century, scores of pigs roamed the streets – about 20,000 of them at peak population in the early 1820’s, a ratio of roughly one pig to every five humans ! Many of them belonged to families. The city was quickly growing in the nineteenth century – in population and wealth disparity. Despite rapid urbanization, non-wealthy New Yorkers continued raising hogs as a means of surviving. A family could always slaughter one of its pigs to feed itself, or sell one of them since pork was a staple of the American diet. Why pigs? Other animals weren’t quite so compatible with urban life. People could let their pigs wander the streets, rummage through trash for the piles of spoiled food that was left out on the street during the day, and count on them to return home in the evening !




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